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U.S. Reviews Warnings for the Blind

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department has given businesses with parking lots a reprieve from a federal requirement to put raised concrete or rubber "detectable warnings" in pedestrian crosswalks and sidewalk curb ramps to keep the blind from walking...

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has given businesses with parking lots a reprieve from a federal requirement to put raised concrete or rubber “detectable warnings” in pedestrian crosswalks and sidewalk curb ramps to keep the blind from walking into traffic.

The International Mass Retail Association has been lobbying Justice officials to rethink the requirement, arguing that sighted customers can slip or trip on the surfaces and there are better ways to alert the blind.

The warnings are raised surfaces, and come in a variety of shapes and materials. Among them are ceramic, rubber, tile, concrete or stamped metal, sometimes in the form of small domes, that create a bumpy surface along the edge of a curb, ramp or crosswalk.

The warnings are required under the accessibility guidelines of the two-year-old Americans With Disabilities Act. The Justice Department has decided to suspend enforcement of the warning provision until July 26, 1996, while it undertakes a study of the issue.

“The domes are obscured. You have people coming out of stores, lugging packages, tugging kids and they don’t see these things,” said Morrison Cain, IMRA vice president of legal and public affairs.

Justice officials based the dome requirement on two studies of hazards faced by the blind in subway systems. Groups representing the blind are divided on whether the domes are needed.

The National Federation of the Blind opposes the domes, arguing that it is the responsibility of blind people to maneuver safely by using canes or guide dogs. The NFB also said the domes can create confusion since they aren’t used at all potentially hazardous sites.

The American Council of the Blind argues that the domes, also required at the edge of reflecting pools, are essential as another cue for the blind to follow.

Mass retailers, Cain said, have reported several instances where customers have tripped over the domes or slipped on them when wet. Before Justice suspended the dome requirements, some stores even removed them, figuring any fines would be cheaper than a slip-and-fall personal injury suit, Cain said.